By Anjali Nayak
Spanning across three different time zones and six different countries, the Sahara desert seems to be the most efficient ecosystem on Earth for harvesting solar power. Rich in silicon (a raw material for the semiconductors which solar cells are made of) and no obstacles such as trees or clouds to hinder the sunlight, it seems that the desert will never be short of solar power. The question is then raised, why hasn’t anyone capitalized off of this natural resource? Why hasn’t humanity saved itself, putting solar panels on the Sahara desert?
For one, solar panels are expensive. This humanity saving project would cost about 514 trillion dollars, equivalent to 23 times the size of the United States economy. Of course, this is all hypothetical. So, what would happen if we were to have unlimited money? What are the real effects of solar panels in the Sahara desert?
Absorbing heat, solar panels would eventually cool the Sahara desert down, leading to rainfall and more vegetation. On the surface, this may seem like a good thing. More vegetation? A greener planet? What’s not to love? The Sahara is much more important to the global web than most realize. It is essential to understand that each ecosystem is connected in a global web; none are isolated. Messing with one of them will cause a domino effect across the others. For one, the Amazon rainforest is fertilized by dust blown over through the Atlantic from the Sahra desert, if atmospheric dust and heat is taken away from the Sahara, it may very well cause a collapse of the Amazon. Furthermore, a warming globe would cause icecap loss, disrupting the ocean currents in turn causing a colossal biodiversity crash worldwide. Failing fish stocks from this could possibly cause rampant famines across the world, as well as the Methane and CO² trapped in Arctic sea ice would be released, mass extinction would be set in motion, with humans being a very possible victim.